Aid agencies evacuate their workers.

Humanitarian aid agencies said yesterday they were evacuating their workers from Iraq in the latest sign that the security situation is slipping out of the US-British coalition's control.

Oxfam said it had pulled out its international staff in the wake of last week's truck bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and as a result of continuing threats to humanitarian relief workers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which remained in Baghdad during the war, also announced it was reducing its presence there, as did Save the Children, which pulled out two of its four international workers, and reduced its local staff.

The withdrawal came as the US death toll from the postwar occupation surpassed the number killed in the invasion itself. A soldier was killed in an ambush on the road between Falluja and Ramadi, bringing to 139 the number of US deaths since President George Bush declared "major combat operations" over on May 1.

That is one more than the number of casualties US forces suffered during the invasion, although a much higher proportion of those were killed in combat. During the occupation, 77 American soldiers have been killed by accidents, suicides and illness.

Julia Tilford, a spokeswoman for Oxfam, said the pervasive environment of insecurity had hit the aid agencies.

"We have withdrawn our international staff to Amman, and suspended our operations," she said. "It's been a combination of factors - the attack on the UN, and specific threats to the humanitarian community received by the ICRC - which meant that we felt the level of risk had become unacceptable."

A UN security council resolution calling for better protection of humanitarian workers was held up yesterday by US objections to a reference in it to the international criminal court, whose existence Washington adamantly opposes.

The resolution, drafted by Mexico, stated that attacks on UN humanitarian workers constituted a war crime "in accordance with the Rome statute of the international criminal court". The US mission to the UN refused to sup port the resolution if those words were included.

The reference to the court was removed yesterday, but in closed-door meetings, the Americans continued to object to the reference to war crimes, apparently because they implied its jurisdiction.

A US official would only say yesterday: "We continue to talk to the Mexicans and we leave it to them when they wish to put forward the resolution."

A Mexican spokeswoman said: "The main issue for us is that is any attack on a humanitarian worker is a war crime. On that we will not negotiate."

The US is also seeking a security resolution authorising the dispatch of more international troops to Iraq but will not agree to demands that it cede some authority over the running of postwar Iraq to international institutions.

Meanwhile, in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the US 4th Infantry Division announced yesterday it had launched the latest in a series of operations aimed at stamping out the attacks.

The latest operation, codenamed Ivy Needle, targeted a gang US military officials said was led by a crime boss released last year in a general amnesty declared by the Iraqi government. American officers said 24 people had been detained but the gang leader had not been found.

[Source: Julian Borger in Washington by The Guardian, London, UK, 27Aug03]

War in Iraq

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This document has been published on 22sep03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.